Mortal Flesh in a Moral Matrix of Words: The Temporal and the Timeless in Travesties

  • Paul Delaney

Abstract

Like Jumpers, Travesties bursts onto the stage with a dizzying array of fragments which seems unreal, chaotic, devoid of coherence and impervious to sense. Both plays begin, Stoppard says, with a ‘pig’s breakfast’1 of seemingly random juxtapositions. But if Jumpers opens with a visual montage, Travesties opens with a verbal mélange. Travesties begins with three pairs of interlocutors exchanging such esoteric declamations as ‘Eel ate enormous appletzara’, ‘Hoopsa, boyaboy, hoopsa!’ and ‘Bronski prishol’.2 Not only do the three verbal exchanges have nothing to do with each other, each of the pronouncements is baffling in its own right. In Jumpers we may not know what paunchy gymnasts, a trapeze striptease, a bumbling professor and a stumbling waiter have in common — but there is nothing particularly arcane about each one individually. Whereas Jumpers presents us with the pieces of a visual puzzle which do not interlock to form any coherent picture, the verbal snippets of Travesties not only fail to cohere with each other but each piece of the puzzle seems to defy any attempt to reduce it to rational sense. The untranslated words and seemingly untranslatable syllables first sounded in Travesties confront the audience with what sounds like a towering Babel of confusion.

Keywords

Dust Amid Germinal Coherence Posit 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Ronald Hayman, ‘First Interview with Tom Stoppard: 12 June 1974’, Tom Stoppard, 4th ed. (London: Heinemann, 1982), p. 12.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Tom Stoppard, Travesties (London: Faber and Faber, 1975), pp. 18–19; hereafter cited parenthetically in my text.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Mel Gussow, ‘Stoppard Refutes Himself, Endlessly’, New York Times, 26 April 1972, p. 54.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Janet Watts, ‘Tom Stoppard’, Guardian, 21 March 1973, p. 12.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Tom Topor, ‘Lunch with a Playwright’, New York Post, 10 April 1974, p. 64.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Mel Gussow, ‘Jumpers Author Is Verbal Gymnast’, New York Times, 23 April 1974, p. 36.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Tom Stoppard, ‘Ambushes for the Audience: Towards a High Comedy of Ideas’, Theatre Quarterly, 4, no. 14 (May–July 1974), p. 16; hereafter cited in my text as ‘Ambushes’.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Hersh Zeifman, ‘Tomfoolery: Stoppard’s Theatrical Puns’, in Yearbook of English Studies, 9 (1979), p. 213.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Andrew K. Kennedy, ‘Natural, Mannered, and Parodic Dialogue’, Yearbook of English Studies, 9 (1979), p. 50; Rodney Simard, ‘The Logic of Unicorns: Beyond Absurdism in Stoppard’, Arizona Quarterly, 38 (Spring 1982) 37; Andrew K. Kennedy, ‘Tom Stoppard’s Dissident Comedies’, Modern Drama, 25 (December 1982) 469; Gabrielle Robinson, ‘Plays without Plot: The Theatre of Tom Stoppard’, Educational Theatre Journal, 29 (March 1977) 37.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Eric Salmon, ‘Faith in Tom Stoppard’, Queen’s Quarterly, 86 (Summer 1979) 215, 229.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    David Camroux, ‘Tom Stoppard: The Last of the Metaphysical Egocentrics’, Caliban (Toulouse), 15 (1978) 86.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The voices in the chorus are those of John William Cooke, ‘The Optical Allusion: Perception and Form in Stoppard’s Travesties’, Modern Drama, 24 (December 1981) 525; Gabrielle Robinson, ‘Nothing Left but Parody: Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Tom Stoppard’, Theatre Journal, 32 (March 1980) 85–94; Michael Hinden, ‘Jumpers: Stoppard and the Theater of Exhaustion’, Twentieth Century Literature, 27 (Spring 1981) 1–15; Carol Billman, ‘The Art of History in Tom Stoppard’s Travesties’, Kansas Quarterly, 12, no. 4 (Fall 1980), p. 47; Kennedy, ‘Dissident Comedies’, p. 469; Simard, ‘Logic of Unicorns’, p. 37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 14.
    Coppélia Kahn, ‘Travesties and the Importance of Being Stoppard’, New York Literary Forum, 1 (Spring 1978) 196.Google Scholar
  14. 15.
    Allan Rodway, ‘Stripping Off’, London Magazine, 16 (August/September 1976), p. 68.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    Tom Stoppard, The Real Thing, rev. ed. (London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1984), pp. 53, 54; hereafter cited parenthetically in my text.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    Hayman, ‘Profile 9: Tom Stoppard’, New Review, 1 (December 1974), p. 20.Google Scholar
  17. 24.
    Charles Marowitz, ‘Tom Stoppard — The Theater’s Intellectual P.T. Barnum’, New York Times, 19 October 1975, sec. 2, p. 5.Google Scholar
  18. 25.
    Craig Werner, ‘Stoppard’s Critical Travesty, or, Who Vindicates Whom and Why’, Arizona Quarterly, 35 (Autumn 1979) 231.Google Scholar
  19. 27.
    Robert Taylor, ‘More Than Just “Clever Nonsense”’; ‘An Evening With Tom Stoppard’, 27 March 1977.Google Scholar
  20. 32.
    Howard D. Pearce, ‘Stage as Mirror: Tom Stoppard’s Travesties’, MLN, 94 (December 1979) 1156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 33.
    Cooke, ‘The Optical Allusion’, pp. 527, 536; Margaret Gold, ‘Who Are the Dadas of Travesties?’ Modern Drama, 21 (March 1978) 64.Google Scholar
  22. 37.
    Tom Stoppard, ‘But for the Middle Classes’, review of Enemies of Society by Paul Johnson, Times Literary Supplement, 3 June 1977, p. 677.Google Scholar
  23. 39.
    Richard Ellmann, ‘The Zealots of Zurich’, Times Literary Supplement, 12 July 1974, p. 744.Google Scholar
  24. 40.
    Daniel Henninger, ‘Theater: Tom Stoppard and the Politics of Morality’, Wall Street Journal, 1 February 1980, p. 17.Google Scholar
  25. 49.
    Gussow, ‘Jumpers Author’, p. 36; A.C.H. Smith, ‘Tom Stoppard’, Flourish [The RSC Club news-sheet ], issue one, 10 June 1974, n. pag.Google Scholar
  26. 50.
    Harold Clurman, ‘Theatre’, Nation, 221 (22 November 1975) 540.Google Scholar
  27. 52.
    Gerald Weales, ‘The Stage: Travesties’, Commonweal, 103 (13 February 1976) 114.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Delaney 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Delaney
    • 1
  1. 1.Westmont CollegeSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations